My daughters are preparing for their first international mission trip sans parents; so in their honor, I'm compiling a list of the lessons I recall from my first international mission trip with Megan several years ago! And since I don't think I have ten tips to share - jump in - add a comment with your favorite tips and lessons from the mission field! (In no particular order)
10. Make the most of it!! I recall standing amid a group of teenagers who were complaining that their feet hurt, their biological clock thought it was 3 a.m. and they wanted to spend the evening sleeping in their hotel room and stating quite emphatically, "I'm almost 40 years old; I've never been to Prague before and will likely never get to come back; and I am NOT spending my free time in a hotel room - now who's with me?" This is the opportunity of a lifetime - don't sleep through it or miss a minute of it!
9. Wear comfortable shoes!! (See "their feet hurt" above) Missions work is generally NOT about being a fashion model and 99% of the world does NOT hop in a car in their driveway and arrive at their destination to walk 100 feet from the parking lot to the door! No matter where you go, there will likely be more walking than you have ever done unless you're in training for a marathon. Comfy shoes - with SOCKS - don't forget!
8. If you have food allergies - perhaps international missions aren't for you! One of our teens was allergic to pork and chicken...and well, anything that wasn't a McDonald's Big Mac. No, I'm not joking. We walked several miles seeking the elusive golden arches only to discover another unique thing about Europe - they have rotating signs at the street corners such that if the golden arches don't happen to be pointing in your direction as you walk by - you will miss the turn! And when Europeans tell you it is "just down the road a bit" - they mean you will walk until you have blisters on your blisters and then will see it glowing dimly in the distance!
7. If someone DOES have food allergies - don't make them eat it anyway! After having to spend an afternoon in the hotel room with said allergic-person while they yakked up their lunch; walking 3 miles to the McDonald's didn't seem so bad. And apparently if something is cooked with chicken broth, picking out the pieces of chicken really isn't quite enough...
6. Bring snacks! Apparently, people in other cultures frequently have their biggest meal at lunchtime - which is actually better for you anyway. But after watching several 6 foot tall, 200+ pound guys scarf down half a dozen sausage-link-size bratwurst and say, "That was great...where's the main course?!"; seems to me having a back-up plan to fill them up would have been a good idea!
5. Females - keep a couple of guys in your group as you travel. Cultural norms are different in other countries and females without a male escort can find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation. I was particularly thankful to have several men in our group when we encountered an inebriated native named George who apparently found me irresistible.
4. "Be fluid - not flexible" - this was the advice given to us by our hosts upon our arrival in Prague - and it was excellent advice. Flexibility implies remaining fixed upon a spot while bending to the various forces at work upon you - but being fluid pictures moving and changing to meet the obstacles and opportunities that God presents! If you are on mission - you are there for God's purposes and not your own. Be willing to do whatever He leads in that moment, whether prayer-walking a quiet street or playing frisbee in a city park! (See note above about traveling in mixed groups!)
3. Your past will find you in the most unlikely places. As we met another mission team (from Scottsdale, Arizona, no less), I ran into someone that I went to high school with 20 years ago! Although she was gracious, I have no doubt that she was shocked to see me, of all people, on a mission trip. Remember, the mistakes you make when you're young, may be forgiven by God and forgotten by you - but there will always be someone out there who remembers them!
2. Be prepared to give a reason for the hope at all times. Disappointed that the plans 'we' had made to give our testimony had not materialized, we soothed ourselves by shopping for souvenirs for friends and family - only to be presented with an opportunity to witness to a young man working behind the counter of a Swarovski Crystal shop! It was the only time on the trip that we were able to openly share Christ with someone.
1. What's your favorite tip? Add it to the comments below!